Writer: Sandy Toksvig
Directors: David Gilmore & Patrick Sandford
Reviewer: Sue Dixon
The Public Reviews Rating:
As part of the Made in Northampton series, writer and broadcaster Sandy Toksvig’s play Bully Boy takes to the Northampton stage this week, before transferring to St James’ Theatre, London in September. Bully Boy is a serious drama set within a British army unit overseas, engaged in a contemporary military occupation (not mentioned directly but alluding strongly to Afghanistan) and also back in the UK as military ‘justice’ unfolds.
It is a shocking and harrowing piece, unexpected from the work most people will think they know Toksvig for, but her witty one-liners and razor sharp use of language are still evident throughout. It is her intelligent use of humour, timed to diffuse any unbearable tension and angst at just the right moments that is particularly striking.
Major Oscar Hadley played by Anthony Andrews is sent to this ‘frontline’ (where is it in an occupation like this?) to investigate the alleged misconduct of British soldiers. As part of his investigation, he interrogates a young squaddie, Eddie Clark, played by Joshua Miles.
The investigation centres on a distressing incident involving an eight-year old local boy having been thrown to his death down a well after watching his mother gunned down. More tragedy ensues as Clark’s comrades die in a gruesome counter bomb attack, complicating the evidence and culpability.
Seasoned actor Anthony Andrews is superb as the Major, reliving in flashback the series of events surrounding this tormenting tale, unfolding as the play develops. As a veteran of the Falklands and having lost his own legs it is with anticipation that the audience watches to see how biased, or otherwise he might be in this situation. His manic, tormented laughter must have rung in everyone’s ears long after leaving the theatre. A truly memorable performance.
Eddie Clark, the young squaddie from Burnley would appear to be his complete opposite, in every sense; educationally, socially, linguistically. But the commonalities they share are gradually and poignantly revealed. Miles’ portrayal of Clark is stunning – way beyond his experience and years. The pent up energy of a young man possessed by the demons who took him over when he witnessed the horrors of active service, is present throughout the whole play. He never flinches or dips in his portrayal of agitated vigour: the kind of energy that only the mentally and emotionally damaged can display. A very well observed and executed portrayal of the ‘universally broken squaddie’
The play is presented in one act of over 100 minutes. It wouldn’t have harmed the piece to have an interval and provide some much needed pause and reflection, before embarking on the climax of the second part.
Sandy Toksvig’s pacifist views are ever present and overlay the play throughout, unashamedly pointing out the answerability of all previous governments and the futile conflicts of the past century. But through the wry northern humour she is perhaps kinder to her audience than is deserved. The statistics of suicide in soldiers like Eddie or the realities of sending vast numbers of young, emotionally fragile young men to war place us all in the firing line of blame.
Sadly this play will stay topical for a long time to come and maybe we are all in some way culpable?
A powerful and memorable evening.
Runs until 15 September 2012
Picture: Mike Eddowes
Bully Boy - Royal & Derngate, Northampton,